By Randy Bishop, Samaritan’s Purse staff writer. Photos by David Morrison, Samaritan’s Purse photographer.
There are no atheists in foxholes.
I doubt that the old adage is true. Yes, I understand the theory that the near specter of death tends to bring out faith in people. But war—even a just war—is terribly ugly and disturbing. It is one of sin’s glories, hardly inspiring.
What is inspiring is the Lake Clark Pass. That’s where the planes fly through on a clear day from Anchorage to Port Alsworth, site of Samaritan Lodge Alaska. Samaritan Lodge is the centerpiece of Operation Heal Our Patriots, the new Samaritan’s Purse ministry to injured veterans and their spouses.
I’d like to propose an updated saying: There are no atheists flying through Lake Clark Pass. I’m afraid that aphorism wouldn’t be any truer than the one about foxholes, but it should be. The magnificence of God’s creation, a reflection of His eternal glory, is on display through that pass like few other places in our world.
Enormous mountains rise on both sides of your tiny plane. Mammoth glaciers—white with neon blue edges—move forward inch-by-inch between impossibly steep ridges. Water cascades and eventually ribbons down onto the coastal plains and inland valleys. Look closely and you might glimpse a bear or moose on the edge of a turquoise river’s oxbow bend.
Adjectives came to mind more quickly than I could scribble them down in my notebook. Jaw-dropping. Spectacular. Dramatic. The epitome of roadless wilderness. Thank you, Heavenly Father, for all of this.
Flying through the pass is a fitting start to an incredible week for visitors to Samaritan Lodge Alaska. Cameras flash, noses are pressed to the windows, and some may even venture to the cockpit to get a fuller view. The scenery mesmerizes the veterans and their spouses, despite the fact they’re tired from traveling from all over the United States.
Upon arrival, Port Alsworth’s flag-waving residents greet the military couples with much enthusiasm. And so the veterans and their spouses begin an unforgettable retreat that includes fishing excursions, bear watching, hiking, kayaking, marriage enrichment classes, daily devotions, and more.
If the military couples never left their cabins, the scenery would be stunning enough. The lodging and dining facilities sit right at the edge of Hardenburg Bay, just below Tanalian Mountain, within the borders of Lake Clark National Preserve and adjacent to Lake Clark National Park.
The pristine environment plays a major role in the three-fold purpose of the Samaritan Lodge experience. During a brief orientation, Chaplain James Fisher tells veterans and their spouses why they’ve been invited.
First, Samaritan’s Purse wants to thank the warriors and their spouses for their service to our country. Second, we want to strengthen marriages so that couples can leave a legacy. Third, we want visitors to witness the beauty of what God has made and consider this challenge: “Where do I fit in God’s creation? What is God’s place for me?”
The soldiers and their families have sacrificed much to defend our country. Offering them a no-cost opportunity to see the splendor of the land they fought for is a great way to say thank you.
Regarding marriage, the scenic excursions provide the couple a fresh set of positive, shared memories. Many have taken few, if any, vacations. For some, this trip is their long-delayed honeymoon.
A majority of veterans who came this year suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, which can have devastating effects on a relationship. It’s hard to imagine a better place to find relief from this trauma than the Lake Clark area: The lap of the water on a quiet beach. The relaxing sound of Tanalian Falls. The beauty of the snow-capped peaks all around. The silence at remote Upper Twin Lake. Cool, fresh air everywhere.
Alaska’s scenery penetrates the soul. I think it’s beyond question that spending time in the beauty and peace of unspoiled surroundings has beneficial effects on the human body and spirit. I saw it firsthand in the demeanor of the veterans. They seemed progressively more relaxed as the week went on.
The Lord has led them to a place of still waters. As David wrote, “He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul” (Psalm 23:2–3a, NKJV). I believe that is what’s happening at Samaritan Lodge. Souls are being restored.
Full restoration, though, comes only through a relationship with Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul states in Romans 1:20, “For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (ESV).
One veteran said: “I am not a religious person, but this definitely brings you close to God. This is a place where you can see there is something bigger than you.”
Having seen a reflection of God’s glory in the majesty of His creation, the question becomes: How will the couples respond? Will they accept God’s love or reject it? Will they let the Great Physician heal them?
The United States military reflects the diversity of our population. Visitors to Samaritan Lodge will likely include men and women from many religious backgrounds. Some may already be faithful followers of Jesus Christ. Others may be churchgoers with no personal relationship to the Lord. Some may be New Agers. Some may come from another world religion. Some may be atheists.
A few of the veterans made decisions for Christ this year. I believe more will in the future, and they will cite their Samaritan Lodge experience as a significant turning point in their spiritual journey.
Alaska’s mountains and lakes reveal Him. The Samaritan Lodge staff witness to Him. His Word is proclaimed. His Spirit is moving.
My prayer is that all who return from the lodge back to Anchorage through Lake Clark Pass will truly know the Lord and understand how they fit into His creation.